On March 24, 2016, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals declared that a person who forced to give oral sex while heavily intoxicated cannot claim that they were sodomized against their will.
The facts of the case are simple. The Defendant forced himself upon his intoxicated and unconscious 16 year old victim, resulting in forcible sodomy. Although the defendant and the victim knew one another prior to the sodomy, that didn't stop him. The prosecutors in the case charged the Defendant with the crime of forcible sodomy, but the Judges found him to be not guilty under the statute.
So what is the statute? What is the Judges’ reasoning? This is clearly problematic, but why?
Under the Oklahoma Statute, Forcible Sodomy is Very Specific.
- committed by a person over the age of 18 to a person under the age of 16; OR
- committed by a person who is incapable to give consent due to mental illness or unsound mind; OR
- accomplished by means of force, violence, or threats of force; OR
- committed on a person at least 16 years old but under 20 years old and a student of secondary school, by a person employed by the school and is over the age of 18.
In this case, the defendant and the victim did not fall under any other requirement except for the second requirement. So the Court only focused on the second requirement and applied it specifically.
Since the Statute Does Not Specify “Intoxication”, the Defendant Did Not Violate the Statute.
The Court unanimously voted 7-0, that the Defendant did not violate the statute. The statute only covers when consent could not be given due to mental illness or unsound mind. In this case the victim was intoxicated, but intoxication (no matter how severe) is not considered to be a mental illness or reflect unsound mind.
There is a separate law for protecting victims who are too drunk to consent to sex. But that law only specifies penetrative sex and not oral sex. The Court had two options: expand the interpretation of the statute or refuse to expand the meaning and take it as read. Here, the Court decided not to expand the meaning and apply the statute as it is written.
The law has a significant blind spot: persons 16 years or older who do not have a mental illness or unsound mind, who were sexually assaulted without force or threat of force. In this case, it was a 16 year old girl who was forced to engage in oral sex while she was too drunk to resist. Since the Court decided not to expand the law, there is now a large class of people who can be sexual assaulted without consequence.
What Does This Mean for the State of Oklahoma?
If this decision becomes binding, it could let assailants walk away from their crime due to the large gap of coverage. It is clear that there is a large gap in the statute. Prosecutors and victims will need to face this argument many times before the law changes.
Now, the law can only change through the legislative branch and that may take months or years before it can change. Until then, prosecutors may find their legal arguments frustrated by such a literal interpretation of the law. Defendants who may have otherwise been found guilty, could end up walking away from the charge of forcible sodomy.
But above all, the victims will suffer the most.
When the Law Fails the Victims It Is Built to Protect
In the United States, 44% of victims of sexual assault or rape are under the age of 18. Most sexual assaults or rapes are committed by a person that the victim knew. Only 32% of sexual assaults are reported to the police, meaning 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail or prison.
The numbers make it clear. The majority of all cases of sexual assault or rape are never reported; victims tend to know their assailants. Half of victims are under the age of 18.
The United States claims to be dedicated to protecting the downtrodden and those that cannot defend themselves. Across the nation, women and children are protected, cherished, and cared for. But so often, the law fails them when it comes to protecting them from the dangers and risks of the world around them.
This case is a clear example of how the law has failed our women and children and that statutory law surrounding sex crimes need to be reformed to truly protect them.
Authored by Janice Lim, LegalMatch Legal Writer